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Beyond the Valley of Roger Ebert

Ode to Nick Pirandello and Bob Wilson

Note: This article originally appeared in issue 300 of The Drink Tank.

An Epic Film of Epicness

An Epic Film of Epicness

So, I love bad film. I mean, *really* love it. Not film that’s poorly made or executed…but film that sized itself up against the jocks and popular folks in high school and said “yeah, that’s never going to be me” and just picked a direction and went for it. There are all kinds of bad films and since I love them, I collect a lot of them. You got your bad teen comedies, your bad science fiction, your bad action films, the lesbian vampire films (you don’t *need* to use the adjective “bad” for that one, it’s totally implied) and a whole host of films following (in)famous characters like Superfly, Ilsa, Foxy Brown and Shaft. All kinds of bad films, and I love them.

But it *started* for me with the film Real Men in 1987, which I discovered on cable a couple years after its release. It starred (to use that term loosely) Jim Belushi and John Ritter. These are the names you immediately turn to when you think “epic greatness”, are they not? Jim Belushi was right between stints in The Principal and Red Heat. John Ritter was between any number of TV movies, this was his first foray back to the big screen since something like 1980 or 1981 and a couple years before his Blake Edwards’ masterpiece Skin Deep (a fit subject for a whole fanzine, if you ask me).

The film starts off looking like your standard 80’s CIA action movie, with Jim Belushi as Nick Pirandello the super agent, and John Ritter as the guy who gets executed in the first scene…but his role quickly expands to also include Bob Wilson, a look-alike less-than-average guy selected by a computer to be plucked up and trained by Nick to make a valuable pass off that is scheduled for the end of the week and MUST be done by the person the other side is expecting. Suddenly, we’re in a MacGyver clone as Nick is making a fully functional sub-machine gun out of what appears to be a vacuum cleaner, a power drill, a metal band aid container and about a pound of six penny nails to fight off the Russian agents who have magically appeared and are trying to kill Bob.  Then we’re whisked off across the country as Nick and Bob bond, meeting a crack CIA clown squad (also sent to kill Bob), a librarian turned dominatrix (the love interest for Nick), a Russian hit squad that breaks for lunch (“They’re not motivated like we are, Bob!”), and Nick’s dad (which connects the bad film dots back to Ilsa, but you’ll see for yourself).

RealMenPartnersFinally we find ourselves in Washington DC to make the hand off with the UFOs (pronounced ‘you-fohs’) to trade them a glass of water for the recipe that will save all life on earth, which would all otherwise be destroyed in five years. Oh, did I mention the UFOs? Yeah, it’s a science fiction film, too! Anyway, now Bob and Nick have both been transformed, Bob is now the hardened agent and Nick is falling prey to focusing on his feelings and is failing at his job.

This film feels like a fruit smoothie of about 12 crazy plot suggestions that would never work all shoved into a BlendTec. And do you know what? It blends! It’s over the top, not rational, not believable, and about 700 kinds of fun. There, there you have my gateway drug to the world of bad film…what’s yours?

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